Why do most of NZ’s best and brightest leave and what brings some of them back?
Brain drain has long been one of the most common concerns small countries have about migration. Brain drain is a particular preoccupation in New Zealand, which has almost one-quarter of its tertiary educated population abroad. While economic theory suggests a number of possible benefits, in addition to costs, from skilled emigration, the evidence base on many of these is very limited. Moreover, the existing surveys of skilled New Zealanders are self-selected samples of New Zealanders abroad, obtained through internet calls for participants. The results of such surveys are likely to be unrepresentative of the population of highly-skilled, and furthermore do not allow comparison with highly skilled New Zealanders who either do not leave or who return to New Zealand. This talk focuses on the New Zealand component of a unique survey which tracks worldwide the best and brightest academic performers from three Pacific countries (NZ, PNG and Tonga). The survey covers emigrants, return migrants, and non-migrants from amongst the very highly skilled, and allows analysis, at the microeconomic level, of the determinants of these migration choices. Although we estimate that the income gains from migration are very large, not everyone migrates and many return. The decision to return is strongly linked to family and lifestyle reasons, rather than to the income opportunities in different countries. Overall the data show a relatively limited role for income maximization in distinguishing migration propensities among the very highly skilled, and a need to pay more attention to other components of the utility maximization decision.
Gibson, John. 2009. 'Why do most of NZ’s best and brightest leave and what brings some of them back?' Motu Public Policy Seminar, February.
Motu code: WPS0902